Authors: Deborah Hopkinson,PATRICK FARICY
Charlie let out his breath at last.
At that moment Sadie sat up in bed and looked around.
“Charlie,” she said in an accusing voice. “You forgot my candy, didn't you?”
“That was delicious. Thank you, ma'am,” said Lizzie, mopping up the last bite of rabbit stew with a biscuit.
Charlie nodded. “It tasted wonderful, Momma”
“I kept it warm, since I was expecting you and Papa,” Momma said with a sigh. She had put Baby Henry to bed and bustled to feed Lizzie and Charlie. Ida Jane had warmed some water so Lizzie could soak the blisters on her feet.
“Lizzie, tomorrow we'll get word to our neighbors, the Engles. They may be able to help you get to Canada,” said Momma.
“What if someone comes looking for Lizzie?” asked Ida Jane. will we do then?”
“You're right, Ida Jane. We need a plan.” Momma thought a minute. “Here's what we'll do. I will take to my bed with the chills. I'll have Baby Henry bundled beside
me, and every blanket and quilt we own piled on the bed.”
Charlie was puzzled. “I don't understand, Momma.”
But Ida Jane clapped her hands. “Lizzie can be hiding under the covers. The way Sadie likes to snuggle up with Momma on a cold morning.”
Momma nodded. “That's the idea. No man would dare disturb a sick mother and a baby.” She turned to Lizzie. “Would you be willing to hide in the bed if someone comes?”
Lizzie nodded. She smiled for the first time. “It will be easy for me, ma'am. I'm skinny as a rail.”
“Now repeat what I told you, Charlie,” ordered Momma early the next morning, as she fried eggs and potatoes, and set a pan of biscuits to bake.
“If anyone stops us, we tell them our papa is away and our mother is sick with fever,” Charlie said. He knew no one would question that. Lots of people in Kansas had the fever.
Ida Jane tied on her bonnet. “Then we tell them we're headed to our neighbors to get help. But we're really going to ask Mr. Engle if he knows anyone who can help Lizzie get to Canada.”
Sadie took a bite of egg. She frowned and chewed slowly. “Momma, are you sick with the fever?”
“Oh, no, Sadie Sunshine,” said Momma, patting Sadie's curls. “But we do need our neighbors' help.”
Charlie and Ida Jane glanced at each other. Sadie was only five. Could she understand how important it was to keep quiet about Lizzie, if anyone came to the door?
Charlie thought Momma must have been worried about the same thing, for Momma leaned over and put her hands on Sadie's shoulders.
“Sadie, if anyone does come, you must be as still as a mouse, no matter what happens,” Momma said sternly. “This is very important. You must not tell anyone Lizzie is here, or that you have ever seen her. Lizzie's life could depend on it. Do you understand?”
Sadie nodded and looked at Lizzie. Her lip trembled and she whispered, “I promise, Momma.”
Then Sadie buried her face in Momma's dress and began to cry.
Charlie was glad to have Ida Jane's company on the walk, especially since Momma wanted to keep Lion at home.
“Lion will be our watchdog. He'll warn us if anyone comes,” Momma had said.
Charlie stood in front of his dog and spoke firmly. “Momma is depending on you, Lion.”
Lion seemed to understand. He sat straight without moving, and watched Charlie and Ida Jane walk away. Charlie looked back at him proudly.
“I hope I get to ride in a wagon at night and help Lizzie escape,” Ida Jane said as the cabin disappeared from view. “All the exciting things have been happening to you, Charlie. I want something to happen to me, too.”
Charlie pointed. “Maybe it will. Look, someone's riding toward us.”
Ida Jane squinted in the sun. “It's only Mr. Engle.”
“Ida Jane! Charlie! Where's your father?” called Mr. Engle, pulling up his horse.
“Papa's away. He's hiding so the border ruffians won't arrest him,” Ida Jane told him.
Mr. Engle spoke quickly. “Run back and warn your mother. I hear border ruffians may be headed this way. They've been roaming the countryside since dawn, stealing every chicken and cow they can get their hands on.”
Mr. Engle turned his horse's head. “Try to hide your stock. I've got to get home and do the same.”
Ida Jane stretched out her hand. “Wait, Mr. Engle! We were coming to see you. We have â¦ a friend at our house. A friend who wants to go to Canada.”
“Until this business settles down, the ârailroad' won't be running,” Mr. Engle told them, spurring his horse. “Do the best you can for now. Later in the summer we can help.”
Chickens and cows, chickens and cows!
How can we get all the chickens and cows hidden?
And what about Lizzie?
“Ida Jane,” he gasped as their feet pounded the dirt. “Sadie and Momma have more than twenty baby chicks. And there's Annie and her calf. How can we hide them?”
Ida Jane's bonnet was tipped over one eye. Her long braids bounced on her shoulders as she ran. “Don't talk to me, I'm thinking!”
Charlie tried to come up with a plan, too. But all he could picture in his mind were the awful things he had seen in Lawrence: the smashed printing press and flames shooting from the Free State Hotel.
The cabin was still and quiet.
We're safe so far,
“Momma, Momma!” Ida Jane shouted as they came closer. “Mr. Engle says the border ruffians are coming! They're looking to steal chickens and cows. We need flour sacks.”
Momma rushed out of the cabin with the baby in her arms. Her face was pale.
“I have an idea,” Ida Jane gasped. “Sadie and I can scoop up some of the hens and chicks into flour sacks. We'll run to the woods near the creek, and hide in the blackberry thicket. They'll never find us in the thick brush.”
Charlie stared at his sister. Chickens in flour sacks? What a crazy idea!
But Momma nodded. “Why not? Don't take them all, though. The men will suspect something if they see an empty coop.”
Ida Jane ran for the sacks. “Come on, Sadie, you can help. We're going to save your favorite chickens.”
“What about Annie?” asked Charlie. “How can we hide Annie and her calf?”
Momma froze. Annie was her prized possession.
Momma had been determined to get a cow so that they could have fresh milk and butter.
“Maybe I can take the cows and try to hide them down by the creek, too,” Charlie offered.
Charlie ran to the stable. He managed to get a rope on Annie and her calf.
“I'll hide the milk pails. And I'll cover the ground with hay to hide any trace of them,” said Lizzie, who had run in behind him to help. “You can say your pa is in town with the oxen. They might not guess you have cows, too.”
Charlie nodded. “Good idea.”
They were just coming out of the stable leading the cows when Lion leaped to his feet and began to bark. In the distance Charlie spotted a cloud of dust. “They're coming.”
“Ida Jane. Run, now!” yelled Momma
Squawk! Cheep! Cheep!
Squawk! Cheep! Cheep!
Ida Jane and Sadie disappeared into the high prairie grass, dragging two wriggling sacks of squawking chickens behind them.
Charlie felt his heart pounding hard. He looked from Momma to Lizzie. “What should we do? There's not
enough time to get the cows to the creek.”
“The most important thing is to hide Lizzie,” cried
Momma “I'm afraid we can't save the cows.”
“Wait, ma'am,” said Lizzie. “Why not put the cows where no one will expect them to be?”
And then she told them her plan.
Charlie held his tiny brother while Momma dragged her wooden rocking chair outside. She grabbed a quilt and the pan of leftover biscuits. She settled herself into the chair and reached up for the baby.
“It's lucky he's such a lazy baby,” said Charlie. “He can sleep through anything.”
Then Charlie and Lizzie went to work. They pulled Annie and her calf into the cabin. The cows looked so funny inside. Charlie had brought some hay for them, and they chewed peacefully.
“They think it's just a nice, new barn,” Charlie said.
Charlie lifted the mattress of prairie hay from Momma's wooden bed and Lizzie got under it. Then he piled every quilt and blanket they had on top.
“Can you breathe, Lizzie?” he whispered.
“A little.” Lizzie's voice sounded far away.
Charlie pulled Lion into a corner of the cabin, behind
his bed. He kept his hand on Lion's muzzle.
“Shh â¦ you have to be perfectly still now,” he whispered.
If I put my ear to the wail right here, I might be able to hear Momma talk to the men,
Charlie closed his eyes and made his breath thin. He could feel little drops of sweat roll down his back.
A moment later he felt the ground rumble. He heard the pounding of hooves. A horse neighed. The silence was pierced by a man's wild yell.
The border ruffians were here.
Charlie could just barely make out Momma's voice.
“Good morning, gentlemen. Lovely day, isn'tâ”
A deep voice cut her off. “This is the Keller claim, ain't it? Where's your husband?”
“I wish I knew, sir. He went to Lawrence and hasn't come back.” Momma paused, and Charlie could imagine her smiling brightly. “Now, gentlemen, I baked extra biscuits this morning. But since my husband's not here, you're welcome to them. And if I do say so myself, I make excellent biscuits!”
Charlie kept his hand on Lion's muzzle. Luckily Annie and her calf were still eating quietly.
“I've been sickly all winter, since my baby was born.”
Momma chatted away in a loud voice. “I do believe this warm sun is the only thing that will keep me alive before I head back East.”
Charlie heard footsteps running here and there. “There's nothing in the barn,” one of the men yelled. “Where's your stock?”